For the last week, thousands of my fellow college mates at Birla Institute of Technology and Science campuses – Pilani, Hyderabad and Goa have been protesting against an exorbitant 15% fee hike.
The tuition fee has constantly been rising. Back in 2009, it was Rs.40,000 per semester, and now the incoming batch of 2018 is expected to pay Rs.1,59,500 per semester.
Recently, we studied the annual reports of the last eight years. For the first two years, the fee hike was justified to cover losses, and later for expansion. At the beginning of 2017, an online petition was circulated across three campuses and addressed to the institute to communicate the students’ concerns regarding the fee hike. Alas, it wasn’t taken seriously by the institute.
In August 2017, after some research on the annual reports that were available, I filed an RTI to get complete information about the annual reports and finances. The institute responded saying that private universities don’t come under the purview of RTI quoting the judgement given by Karnataka High Court on the case with Manipal University.
To confirm this, I spoke with a former Chief Information Commissioner, and he said that any university that receives even a nominal amount of financial aid from the government is bound to come under the purview of RTI. Following this, I had filed an appeal to the UGC against the institute which would compel the university to furnish the requisite information. This appeal was redirected to “Carlox Teacher’s University Ahmedabad “. This happened twice and the whole process wasted three months of my valuable time.
On May 6, 2018, in response to the notification announcing the fee structure for the incoming batch of 2018, a gathering was scheduled by the SU where the Director was to address our queries. The demands of the protest were simple and clear – a rollback of the fee hike and no negotiations on the matter.
Even though it was the week of the final exams, students rallied resiliently for the cause. The protest was organised by the Students’ Union of the college and was scheduled to start at 11 am in the auditorium of BITS Pilani. There were more than 2500 students who filled the auditorium and conveyed their support for the protest.
This enthusiasm, zeal showed by the students for what’s right in Pilani inspired the sister campuses in Goa and Hyderabad to organise a similar protest against the hike. It has been the biggest organised protest in the 62 years of the University’s history. Students gathered in massive numbers and extended their presence and solidarity to social media. They took Twitter by storm and managed to push ‘#RollBackBITSPilaniFeeHike’ to the top of the trending list on Twitter India.
The protest soon gained popularity, and support poured in from various alumni of the college as well as from famous journalists and politicians. The director met all of us to address our grievances. The student representatives were sharp in making their points, and the director answered their queries and understood the issue at hand.
However, the meeting was not conclusive, and the students moved to speak to the Vice Chancellor of BITS. The VC rushed to campus from Delhi cancelling all his other appointments. However, when he met the students, there was no definitive response given. As of now, there’s no surety on the matter, and the students are urging the Chancellor – Mr KM Birla, to issue a statement.
The students who’ve been protesting have stuck to the Gandhian principle of ‘ahimsa’ (non-violence) and kept their calm, no matter how high the tensions have risen. The protest continued to its second day in the scorching heat and through the final exams. Students have been sitting on the roads and the auditorium for extended periods of time to show their support, and many were seen sitting with books studying under the streetlights or using the torchlight on their mobile phones. The importance given to peaceful protest is commendable and is one of the main reasons for the massive online support it has gathered.
As of Day 3, we had launched an initiative called #ChangeForAChange wherein students gathered outside the Vice Chancellor’s office in a queue and put coins in a bowl. The coins were a symbol of change conveying that we can’t contribute any more than this, in case you are really going ahead with the fee hike.
In the evening, we marched with lights across the campus to get the attention of our Chancellor, KM Birla and the social media campaign #BirlaJiSpeakUp was set to motion. The march saw a participation of over 800 people who were marching with their phone torches on while the directors of the four campuses had a meet with the BITSAA (BITS’ Alumni Association).
The institution is now taking positive steps to address the issue. The administration has announced that they will be withholding the due slips/fee slips for the next semester until they arrive at a consensus with the students.